Yesterday, President Obama laid out his vision for US policy in the Middle East. As policy prescription it was light. But as a statement of values, of intent, it goes a long way to providing insight into his mind and that of his government, not just for those in the Middle East and North Africa but also beyond.
There were many constituencies watching: from authoritarian Arab leaders to, the opposition movements in the region from Tunisia, to Egypt and Libya, and, of course Obama's own domestic audience. It was an impossible task to keep them all happy, and inevitably the result was a disappointment to many. This was, perhaps, the only outcome he could expect.
President Obama's vision reflects the values that he has laid out now many times, starting with his 2009 speech in Cairo. He compared the Arab Spring and the people's drive for freedom to the birth of America over two centuries ago, and he insisted that such freedom must be supported. He took a stronger line than anticipated against the leadership in Bahrain and Syria, starting the day before with imposing sanctions on President Assad. To those countries that have already entered a period of transition, he pledged America's support, principally in financial terms.
On the Middle East peace process, after a struggle between different factions within the US government, he came down on some specifics - borders based on the pre-1967 line with land swaps and the importance of security for Israel. But, inevitably, much was left unsaid on the right of refugees or Jerusalem as a capital for both states. With George Mitchell, US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, resigning earlier this week he impressed upon both sides the need to compromise and engage together for peace.
President Obama laid out a sweeping vision for the region: where change is led by the people, and where America will support the values it holds dear - freedom, democracy, individual rights, and peace. America-watchers should read the speech closely. Doing so I would argue, will prove more enlightening to those trying to understand its foreign policy than a speech giving hard policy prescriptions.